Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Left: “Yes, I’m the Great Pretender”

The world is a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.
                                                                                George Santayana

Gazing across the political spectrum one might search for a single word or phrase that captures the essence of any one of the ideological occupiers.  The Left has long settled on “stupid” as the most fitting for conservatives.  “Conservatives as stupid” reaches a long way back with England’s great utilitarian philosopher and reformer, John Stuart Mill, calling the Tories the “stupid party.”

So it was then and so it is today.  The pundits have recently savaged the current crop of Republican Presidential aspirants mostly with aspersions on the paucity of their intellects. Whatever other many unseemly qualities they may evince – meanness, ignorant religiosity, greed, and hypocrisy – all are overshadowed with the low levels of intelligence by which they operate.   Rick Perry was stupid. Michelle Bachmann was ignorant and dumb.  Newt Gingrich may appear to be smart, but it is merely superficial camouflage. He is not really bright at all.  All of these troglodytes by comparison now, so we hear from columnist Clarence Page, make Ronald Reagan look wise.   Of course when Reagan was a candidate for President he too was simple-minded, senile, “an amiable dunce,” per Clark Clifford, vapid and intellectually inferior. 

By contrast the Left is the Mensa segment of the political spectrum, a brainy, high IQ society of college professors, trial lawyers and Hollywood actors, actresses and directors.  Whatever their shortcomings, they are smart. No one impugns their intellects.  George W. Bush, the only President to earn an M.B.A (from Harvard) was widely disparaged as much dumber than divinity school drop-out Al Gore.  President Obama, qualified “to heal the planet”, as he promised in his campaign, is said to be a brilliant constitutional lawyer and scholar, although he has never published a single article on the subject, even as editor of the Harvard Law Review, much less a book.  His only publications to date are two books are about his favorite subject, himself. 

So, what single word might we essay to capture the essence of the Left?  “Pretenders” – the politicos of compassion are the Great Pretenders.  What then do they pretend to?

First, they pretend to know.  Karl Marx, the Great Pretender of the 19th century claimed to have discovered the “laws of history” from which he deduced and then predicted how the history of the modern world would unfold and what the end result would be.  The “good guys”, the oppressed workers of the world, would rise up take power from the capitalist exploiters and build a society free of domination, poverty, war and unhappiness.  Of course, none of this worked out.  Marx as a knower, a theorist was an abject failure.  But Marx’s disciples continued to pretend in the theory.  Not only would the “socialist workers paradise” predicted by Marx come to pass, but they pretended to be the chosen ones who would make it happen. 

The pretend-knower persists to this day.  The academy abounds with Leftists who invent “theories” which, they proudly assert, “unmask” the culprits in social world who dominate and exploit an assortment of unfortunates.  The University of California at Berkeley’s Judith Butler’s is one of the acclaimed knowers.  This theoretical bombshell appeared in “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” an article in the “scholarly” journal Diacritics (1997):

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

No one outside of a university philosophy and English department would bother to decipher this mental ordure.  Other than her graduate assistants and an assortment of her queer theory, post-modernist, post-structuralist camp followers, no one else would pretend that this says anything important, insightful or even interesting.  Good theories lead to inventions, innovations, deeper understanding.  Theories of this sort lead only to tenure, promotion and academic conference junkets – to read them makes for a headache.

Second, the Leftists pretend to be virtuous.   Their intellectual and theoretical superiority is complemented by their moral superiority.  They represent and speak for the oppressed, exploited and marginalized, and unlike conservatives who are motivated solely by greed and narrow self-interest, the luminaries of the Left are genuinely altruistic and benevolentThey put people over profit, light candles and protest at the execution of murders, and congratulate themselves for their boundless compassion and devotion to the environment.  

Of course, these moralists are no more upright and decent generally speaking than the stupid conservatives and the masses they look down upon, including the rubes in the flyover states who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them.”  The Left too is full of antipathy – particularly for cigarette smokers, traditional Christians and owners of gas guzzlers – but they pretend to be open-minded and tolerant.  The many heroes of the Left – Lenin, Mao, Castro, Che, Ho Chi Minh – while they were building the gulags, murdering their opposition and impoverishing their own people, were lionized and lauded by Leftist in the West as Robin Hoods, benefactors of humanity, tireless and selfless devotees of the poor and oppressed. 
Third, the Leftists pretend that their failures are successes.  For decades Leftists in the West pretended that the Soviets, then the Chinese Communists, then Fidel Castro had built societies far superior to the capitalist ones they comfortably lived in and disparaged.  The pretending persisted across the years in spite of the accumulating evidence of misery, penury and servitude in these paradises.  No one in Miami was building rafts and braving the open ocean waters and sharks to arrive in Havana. Yet, Fidel remains a hero who gave the Cubans who couldn’t escape his paradise free health care. His eventual New York Times obituary will pretend he was a humanitarian.  In the U.S. the Left has presided over the apotheosis of FDR pretending he was the greatest of American Presidents in spite of ample evidence that his policies greatly prolonged the Great Depression and that he seriously misjudged Stalin and was manipulated by him.  The peoples of eastern and central Europe paid dearly for FDR's avuncular view of Joseph Stalin.

While conservatives may remain the stupid party, the Left has been and continues to be the party of pretenders, to paraphrase Santayana above, it persists as “a perpetual caricature of itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending to be.”